Daily Mail On Health Tonics

August 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm (Bad Science, Media) (, , , )

The Daily Mail has an article on the top five health tonics. Let’s take a quick look.

Whether safeguarding against illness or helping to aid recovery, health tonics – liquid preparations containing a combination of herbs, vitamins, minerals and other ingredients – are age-old remedies. And while they won’t provide a magic cure, they can ensure the body has all the nutrients it needs. Here are five that may provide a vital boost.

Crikey, they can safeguard help prevent illness and aid recovery if you do succumb. Sounds great. What’s in them? Vitamins, minerals, and herbs are mentioned.

Vitamin B1, calcium, potassium, sodium and manganese are in the first tonic. These ingredients may help prevent deficiency diseases (in the unlikely event that you are deficient in one of these nutrients), but as far as I’m aware, that’s pretty much as far as it goes in terms of disease prevention. According to the Mail’s report, this tonic is “Formulated to help restore health and vitality after colds, flu or just when feeling tired and run-down”. I know of no evidence that these ingredients are beneficial for colds or flu and I suspect that the claim to help restore “health and vitality” is meaningless. Claims to aid vitality or boost energy usually are. The word energy is sometimes used by those promoting vitamins in order to refer to “feeling energetic” – this energetic feeling probably has nothing to do with “energy” in the sense that a physicist would use it. While vitamin B1 is involved in carbohydrate metabolism, which provides energy to the body’s cells, there is no good reason to think that it provides you with “vitality”.

The next remedy is one that contains acai, red grape juice, lycopene and resveratrol. These are all antioxidants (or sources of antioxidants) and some have been proclaimed to be ‘superfoods’. Antioxidants were once thought to be promising in terms of prevention of cancer and heart disease. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than that: a Cochrane review found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention. Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E may increase mortality, while one study found that the combination of beta carotene and vitamin A had no benefit and may have had an adverse effect on the incidence of lung cancer and on the risk of death from lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and any cause in smokers and workers exposed to asbestos. As for the idea that these ingredients are superfoods (a claim not made in the Mail article, by the way), Holford Watch once reported on a newspaper article in which Several experts explain that basic science shows that some claims about superfoods can not be proved, and any specific benefits may not be available to everyone who eats them.

There is another tonic that contains vitamin A “for growth and maintenance of skin, hair and nails, and Vitamin D for bones and teeth, plus iron”. I’m not sure how growth, maintenance of skin, hair and nails or healthy bones and teeth fit in to the myth of health tonics. These are perfectly normal claims for these vitamins and a tonic is supposed to be “restorative, curative or invigorating” according to Wiktionary. How is the maintenance of healthy skin, hair and nails (or bones and teeth) “restorative, curative or invigorating”? This strikes me as being just, well, stuff and nonsense and reminds me of patent_medicines (see also The rise of the lifestyle nutritionists). Another of the tonics is an iron supplement sourced from a spa in Snowdonia. The Mail tell us that it is “a mineral essential for carrying oxygen around the body”, but fail to inform us as to how that makes iron “restorative, curative or invigorating”. The final tonic is an allergy tonic (again, rather than being a restorative this seems to be something quite different – it is, allegedly, an allergy remedy). While there is some evidence that black elderberry has an effect on immune parameters (“increasing inflammatory cytokine production”: Pubmed), the ‘tonic’ also contains (according to the Mail) “anti-inflammatory herbs”, which strikes me as being a somewhat confusing mixture of ingredients.

This appears to be just another advertorial puff piece in the long and inglorious history of advertorial puff pieces. The Mail provide web addresses for those wishing to purchase these ‘tonics’, but interestingly enough do not credit a reporter with a byline. Perhaps whoever wrote it preferred to remain anonymous.


http://backupurl.com/zkdkph (in case the article is altered).

Please feel free to add clarifications or corrections to this post in the comments section below.


  1. Neuroskeptic said,

    Claims to boost health and “vitality” remind me of patent remedy adverts from 100 years ago…

    Although at least they were adverts and not newspaper articles.

  2. Alva said,

    Hi!. Thanks a bunch for the info. I’ve been digging around looking some info up for shool, but i think i’m getting lost!. Yahoo lead me here – good for you i guess! Keep up the great information. I will be coming back over here in a couple of days to see if there is any more info.

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